Why is Change hard? The Stages of Change!
Wanting to make changes? Have you tried, and the changes have felt impossible? Insurmountable? Others feel you should change, but you do not? Have you tried to change something in your life, that has found temporary success; but been hard to maintain?
Individuals choose to change for varying reasons; they may feel a change will move them forward, or someone in their lives may ask them to change, or they may feel they have no choice but to change an aspect of their lives or themselves. If change is wanted, needed, looked for and craved - why does making the actual change feel insurmountable? Most people start a new year with new year resolutions; hoping that a new year will motivate the changes they have been wanting to make for awhile. Some individuals are forced into change by lifestyle choices, circumstance and needs. Does making a choice to change, versus being forced into a change make a difference in whether change happens for you? Does it make it easier to go through the change process?
The Transtheoretical Model of Change (aka the Stages of Change), provide us with some perspective on why changing or making changes happen, may not be as fluid and smooth as some of us would like it to be.
Used in Substance - Use therapy, the Transtheoretical Model, provides us with some insight as to where each of us might fall in the thought-action-maintenance process of Change. For example if you have decided to change because you have been forced to (family requires it, friends demand it, work requirement, court order), you may not believe change is needed; you may not even feel change is possible. You will possibly see your self in the "Pre-contemplative stage". If you decide that you need a change, but feel unsure as to how that can come about, or even if you can change, or whether change is worth the challenges ahead, you may find yourself in the "Contemplative Stage". What are the differences between these two stages, you may ask. The answer, amongst many others, is that in order to make change happen, one needs to believe change is needed, required and essential.
What is the difference between the "Contemplative Stage" and the "Determination" stage? I maybe thinking about change, and understand change must happen; but I may not feel change is possible, or the tasks ahead are doable, or that I can make it happen. Determination takes the "want" to change, and makes it "happen". Having come up with strategies to make a change, you may be in the action phase - trying to make them happen. You may have found success (yes!!!!!), and maybe maintaining the new changes in your life. As hopeful as taking action and maintaining changes can be, life rarely runs that smoothly. Therefore some of us encounter a relapse stage (recurrence); where we return to old habits! "stress eating", "stress smoking", "risky behaviour when emotionally overwhelmed", "closing others out", "shutting down" are some examples.
Relapse, does not mean you failed! It just means you are human! Changes take time to become habit, and in removing one habit, we need to replace it with a behvaiour that supports your life better. Making the change, we need to give the "change" time to become our new "habit". So, yes, relapse can occur. Self-awareness is key to recognizing the signs (triggers) to a relapse happening: "I feel quite upset, and I feel hungry at the same time. I just had lunch, but I am looking for something to eat". Why? Could it be that you are upset, and when you eat you feel better? How do you start to feel better without eating? What can you do instead?
Replacing one "habit" with a more functional "habit" is essential to making change last. Examining the underlying triggers (signs) is essential to making lasting change; better understanding of how to manage and process the emotions and thoughts, and past experiences will support a longer "maintenance" phase! Change is possible for all of us; understanding why change has been difficult and what maintains the current status-quo is the first step!
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